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Henrik Lundqvist's bid for first Cup comes to a painful end

New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist reacts after losing

New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist reacts after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden on Friday, May 29, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

All of the other Rangers players had left, the only sound other than Henrik Lundqvist's voice now provided by equipment men packing up for the summer.

The celebrating was going on in a smaller dressing room down the hall, out of earshot.

So the final words from the players' end on the Rangers' season Friday night appropriately went to their goaltender, who nearly saved them again but could not score for them.

The last question and answer were telling, because they covered two central themes.

In the big picture, Lundqvist expressed confidence in where the team is and where it is going. In the smaller picture of a 2-0 loss to the Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, he acknowledged there was something inexplicably missing from the Rangers' mojo.

Asked if the result caused him to "second-guess" anything going on with the team, he said this:

"Absolutely not. No. To get to this point is extremely tough. We've been here now three times in [four] years, so I like the consistency. I like what we're doing and the group we have. We were 20 minutes away from another Final.

"There are a lot of good teams out there that are done already. In the end, you need a good team, but you also need bounces. You need good plays at the right time and today we didn't have that little extra. I felt like they had a little more edge, maybe, to their game."

He was right on both counts.

The Rangers' success in the 2010s deserves praise, just as their failure in the 2015 conference finals deserves criticism. They worked all year to gain home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, then watched the Lightning beat them three times at the Garden in 11 days.

The home team's combined total of goals for those three games: two. The home team's combined total of goals in four games at the Garden in this series: four.

The bad news for the Rangers is that the unpredictable nature of the NHL requires seizing Stanley Cup moments when they are there for the seizing, and the Blueshirts have not done that during their recent spring runs. They have done it once in 75 years and counting.

Starting the quest all over again come autumn is a daunting psychological and physical hill to climb.

The good news: They have a strong core, although there will be changes, such as the seemingly inevitable re-signing of restricted free agent Derek Stepan and the seemingly inevitable departure of running-on-fumes Martin St. Louis.

Most of all, they have Lundqvist, who at 33 has shown no signs of slowing down. But he eventually will, and he already finds himself being widely compared to Patrick Ewing among great New York players without a championship.

Sometime in the next five or so years, the clock will run out, and if his name is not etched on the Cup by then, that is exactly what King Henrik will be: an all-time Ranger, arguably the best of them all, and yet . . . well, something will be missing.

Late Friday in the Rangers' dressing room, that day inched a little closer to Lundqvist's crease.

"I think everybody understands how hard it is," he said before taking off his pads, showering, presumably dressing impeccably and heading into the New York night. "So I think it's important that you appreciate every moment you get in this position and you learn from it.

"But it's painful. If it wouldn't be painful, it wouldn't be a special place to be right now. We put in a lot of work and effort to be here together. We have tried really hard to be here and put ourselves in this spot. That's a great feeling to accomplish that, but to come up short, it hurts."

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